The Breakfast Problem

In the almost 15 years that I’ve been back in Pittsburgh, the food scene here has for the most part expanded and improved in ways that I would not have imagined possible. I personally would not have believed that our humble city could now be the home of a Chinese place as good as Rose Tea Cafe, an honest- to-god Taqueria (Taco Loco in the South Side), or a Moule Frites place (Point Brugge Cafe in Point Breeze) in addition to several regional Italian establishments (Piccolo Forno, La cucina Flegrea, Lidia’s). Read On →

What's Your Jade Empire Name?

Like everyone else, we’re currently absorbed in Jade Empire. A little while ago, my friend Nat was heard to say: “I could say Sagacious Zu over and over all day,” to which I replied, “I need to write a little Javascript app for my blog that generates your Jade Empire Name. “ So I did. Without any further ado, I present What’s Your Jade Empire Name (update: now, The Inscrutable Denominator of Heavenly Glory), the result of a good, oh, 10 or 15 minutes “work” writing some simple Javascript (don’t look at the source. Read On →

Friday's Questions

More musings on unanswerable questions that aren’t actually significant enough to warrant their own long article: - Am I the only person who thinks that aspirin, chewed, tastes kinda good? I want aspirin-flavored soda. - Who are all these people that are still buying $2500 gaming PC rigs, and what is wrong with them? - What happened to my copy of the Tank Girl soundtrack, along with maybe 5% of all the CDs I’ve ever owned? Read On →

Evil in Residence

I never played any of the Resident Evil games before Resident Evil 4. From what I can gather, they were slow-paced with a weird camera system that made combat nearly impossible and a fairly bizarre story centered around an evil virus and zombies. The hype around RE4 was that it was different. Most of the rather enthusiastic press waxes lyrical about the new graphics engine and camera, the new combat system, and the interactive cutscenes. Read On →

Signs of the Food Apocalypse, Part 1

A real conversation I had at the grocery store yesterday: Me: “Hi. Do you have any heavy cream?” Employee: “Heavy cream? What’s that?” And that was when I crumpled to the floor and wept like a jilted cheerleader. I know it was just one employee, but it’s still depressing.

Jaded Empire

As I mentioned the other day, I recently picked up Jade Empire . I’ve played it throughout the weekend and have some comments. Jade Empire The game is, at its heart, Knights of the Old Republic only with Kung-fu masters and asskicking instead of Jedis and lightsabers. This is not a criticism. It’s what every single person who buys the game is looking for. The summary is that Bioware has delivered exactly what everyone wanted, and I’m enjoying the game a lot. Read On →

Emacs Key Bindings Make You Retarded

The other day, I stopped using Firefox for gmail. Part of the reason is that Firefox under MacOS feels slightly wrong and renders funny because it is still using older Carbon interfaces. But, the real reason I stopped was because the text widgets don’t have Emacs key bindings the way normal MacOS text widgets do. What I find sad about this is not that Firefox is lacking this feature, but that my nervous system is so crippled that even 20 years down the line, I can’t purge the need for this stupid text editing user interface from the tips of my fingers. Read On →

You Won't See Me Coming

They nearly got me this time, with the pre-ordering thing. Sometime around January, Bioware started sending me email (I registered with them, because I love them as a company and don’t mind them marketing to me) about Jade Empire. They told me how that there would be a “Limited Edition,” and somehow managed to imply, without actually saying, that if I wanted the Limited Edition, I would need to pre-order through them. Read On →

Crawl

As long as I’m talking about rogue-like games, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Linley’s Dungeon Crawl. More baroque than rogue, but not quite so overburdened as (or, on the other hand, as polished as) Nethack, it’s worth a look. Death comes quickly in Crawl; at any given point, you are only two or three wrong moves away from an ignominious end. While on the one hand this sounds tiresome, it is actually a refreshing break from games like Angband, where the entire first 12 hours of the game consist of a walk in the park, and then the difficulty suddenly ramps up from “trivial” to “impossible” in the space of a few minutes. Read On →

Ultrarogue

In 1986, I nearly failed out of college because I spent so much time playing urogue. That’s not the game’s fault, of course. No doubt if it wasn’t urogue it would have been some other addictive little distraction that I found more interesting than my classes. But nonetheless, urogue (“UltraRogue v 1.03”), Herb Chong’s little creation, was my bete noir, and so it has always maintained a barren little corner in my heart. Read On →

Flying on a Jet Plane

I flew to California yesterday for some work meetings. I found this flight to be an interesting platform on which to ponder various aspects in our social makeup. The Security Line The security line is a funny place for me. Not really funny as much as hateful. Today in the security line, I noticed that one of the screens was playing a little animation about how to move through the line quickly, and about how The Government (e.g. Read On →

Amari Delayed

No, I haven’t forgotten – the amari roundup is just taking a little longer to write up than I expected. Look for it in the next week or so.

In This Day and Age

It’s Friday and we’re all tired here, so instead of the usual thoughtful and opinion filled piece of writing, I will just present a list of questions so vexing, so complicated, confusing or just plain stupid that I’ve never been able write a whole article about them. 1. Why can’t I aim my gun and walk at the same time? 2. Why do people insist on eating rice, with chopsticks, off plates? Read On →

New Game Shorts

It has been a big couple of weeks for new games, so here are some short impressions of the new stuff flowing through the house. Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords Picked this up used at not quite full price. The best and worst thing you can say about this game is that it is more of the same light saber wielding force power throwing Jedi ass kicking. As before, the game starts out pretty slowly, and as before you will run through a series of mostly linear dungeons, er, planets where you get missions, kill stuff and generally engage in a lot of dialog and combat. Read On →

Playable Classics: Fool's Errand

One sunny day, a light-hearted fool strolled along a hilly path, whistling a merry tune. A long wooden pole was slung over his shoulder and attached to it was a cloth bundle which carried his life’s possessions. Fool’s Errand In 1987, Cliff Johnson, puzzle-creator extraordinaire, released The Fool’s Errand for Macintosh, thus dooming an entire generation of computer game players to at least a few weeks without sleep. Fool’s Errand – like all of Johnson’s computer games – is a collection of simple and not so simple puzzles connected by a story. Read On →

Lazy Cycling

I’ve been on my bike for the first time this year. I generally ride when DST starts and stop when DST stops. While gasping for breath on the first hill of the year, I got to thinking about why I like cycling when it’s clear that I am a lazy bastard. The reason for this is simple. Of all the ways you can hurt yourself in the name of fitness outside of team sports, cycling is by far the best for the lazy. Read On →

E pur, si muove

You know it’s going to be a bad day when the first thing you read when you wake up is that the PA Legislature is considering a bill that reads, in part: Section 1. The act of act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding a section to read: Section 1516.2. Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth.--(a) In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the origin of man and the earth which includes the theory commonly known as evolution, a board of school directors may include, as a portion of such instruction, the theory of intelligent design. Read On →

No Sense of Humor '05

In a world where it seems as if every web site has dumb and mostly unfunny pranks, some just plausible enough to make you do a spit-take before you’ve had your coffee, only Tea Leaves provides shelter from the storm. Once again it is our privilege to present a simple, modest space with no April Fool’s jokes. Enjoy!

Amari Tasting (Part 1)

This is the first part of an article on the Tea Leaves amari tasting panel. Today we will talk about the arrangements and participants, and tomorrow we will discuss the panel’s reactions to the liqueurs. Their names roll off the tongue: Fernet. Nonino. Averna. Their tastes – unusual, herbal, and exotic – can seem almost indescribable. They are the amari, powerful Italian digestifs. My first exposure to amari came in Italy. Read On →

Splinter Cell 3: Super Kudos

I picked up the new Splinter Cell game tonight at the Target. I’ve only played through the level that was recently on the Xbox demo disk, but I feel that I have to give Ubisoft a big wet sloppy kiss for listening to the forces of light and goodness and implementing quick saves, save anywhere and faster load times all in one fell swoop. This one act of kindness removes the only tedious and annoying aspect of the previous Splinter Cell games. Read On →

Critical Mess

Driving home from work on Friday night, we noticed a strange sight for Pittsburgh. A couple of dozen young people decked out in the Pierced Goth look that is prevelant among today’s “non-conformist” youth were riding down Fifth Avenue connected to bicycles via fancy clipless pedals and shoes which looked a bit out of place under their black jackets and rainbow colored leg warmers. When they all ran the red light at Fifth and Bellefield, I realized what was going on. Read On →

In Defense of Starbucks

Everyone loves to hate Starbucks. You can understand why: they’re everywhere, they’re successful, and the experience from store to store is so consistent that they destroy even the pretense of local flavor. There’s an upside to Starbucks, though: they’re everywhere, they’re succesful, and the experience from store to store is so consistent that I can get a drinkable coffee in the middle of nowhere. To those of us who live in cities, the idea that one would have to go to a Starbucks to get acceptable coffee is ridiculous. Read On →

Amari Update

I am pleased to announce that Lidia’s restaurant in the Strip has graciously offered to sponsor the amari tasting. The members of the panel have been chosen, the time and place are set, and all that’s left is to sit down and actually taste the liqueurs, and write up our impressions. Expect pictures and commentary from the event soon.

Thank You

Thanks to the alert readers who pointed out that the Captcha/security code text box was misnumbered, which made tabbing between the comment fields painful. It’s fixed now.

Pretention Quotient Peterb Remix

For the record, here’s my list applying the criteria that psu sets out. | Food Not Great | Food Good or Great —|—|— **Not Pretentious ** | Chiodos, Dee’s Hot Dog Shop, The O | Il Piccolo Forno, Rose Tea, Tram’s Kitchen Pretentious | Le Pommier, Mallorca, Cafe Sam, Church Brew Works. | Baum Vivant, Chez Gerard As a special case, as far as I’m concerned, if your menu says “hominy polenta” instead of “grits,” you are automatically placed in the “pretentious / food not great” category.

The Pretension Quotient

There are a lot of ways to rate restaurants. The assumption is that most reviewers are there to rate the food, but really they are looking at many other aspects of the place. Therefore, in rating surveys like the Zagat’s, you see multiple numbers written down and averaged and weighted: food, decor, “value” and so on. I was reading a ranty blog entry about a few local places and the thought occured to me to try and define a simple measure to summarize my feelings about a restaurant. Read On →

Spending The Marginal Dollar

_Recently, Thurston Searfoss, author of the superb strategy game The Lost Admiral Returns, dropped me a line. He’s considering adding some features to the game – online play, a scenario editor, more special missions – and wanted my opinion as to which of those features I personally thought, as a gamer, would help with sales. I like Thurston, and I love his game, and so I wrote a detailed response to his questions. Read On →

Legendary Ease of Use

This month the Official Xbox Magazine included a demo of Jade Empire, the upcoming RPG that Bioware has been developing since they passed the KOTOR franchise to others. I mention this because for the last year or so I’ve had the following conversation with Pete a few times: Me: This Jade Empire looks cool, but I don’t know about this “real time” fighting system. Pete: Don’t worry, this is Bioware. Every game they ever made has a battle system that is turn based underneath but animated in real time. Read On →

Playable Classics

I’ve talked before about my distrust of nostalgia. But, I like playing, reading about, and writing about old videogames. This presents something of a conundrum. Many discussions of old videogames are colored by nostalgia. Gamers of a certain age have strong opinion on whether the Atari 800 or Commodore 64 version of a given game was better, and have been known to come to blows over the issue. Worse, though, is the tendency to only remember the good things about games we played when we were younger. Read On →

Turkey Cutlets with Lemon and Capers

Here’s a simple recipe for turkey. I think it’s good because I made it once for a friend who doesn’t like turkey, and he ate a pound of it. To this day his wife makes the recipe with chicken and calls it “Pete Su” chicken. I think I got the original version out of one of the Frugal Gourmet cookbooks. These days, thinking myself more sophisticated, I tend to look down on those books a bit, but that’s just my own elitist arrogance. Read On →

Code Reviews

You might think I don’t proofread my articles carefully before I post them. Every time I post an article – every single time – about 5 minutes after it goes up, one of my friends will point out a spelling mistake, or a typo, or some sentence where I left out a verb. But I do proofread. And I always miss some of the errors. I think the problem, in large part, is that I’ve written and read the article so many times in my mind that it’s difficult to read the article on the screen before me. Read On →

You are Who You Eat With

The restaurant experience can be a tricky thing to optimize. Sometimes you are just after a fun time with good company, and so the nature of the space (or the booze) is more impotrant than the food. More often though, especially for me, the goal is to both have a good time and to get the best food possible. This can be especially hard for those of us afflicted with a particular psychological malady which I will call “Trillin’s syndrome”, after the New Yorker writer who pointed it out to me. Read On →

Carbon Monoxide

This week’s Things That Can Kill You is carbon monoxide. I hope you enjoy it. These were produced some time ago, and this is the last of them. Which raises the difficult question: should I make more? Whether I do or not depends, in part, upon you. Since this might be the last one posted for a while, please share your comments below.

How To Shop at Whole Foods

Recently, a friend of mine who is new to Pittsburgh paid his first visit to Whole Foods. His comment on the experience was: This is the place to shop if you enjoy paying a 50-100% markup over traditional supermarket prices so that you can feel good about how much you are doing for the native tribesmen of Mek-a-lek-a-ding-dong. Aside from that, they do have a good selection of international and esoteric foods. Read On →

Halo 2 Vignettes

I like Halo 2 on Xbox Live. Since I am not innately talented at this sort of thing, I have to get by on single glorious flashes of brilliance to make up for my generally inept level of gameplay. This makes my online experience a sort of bipolar disorder, bouncing between the completely juvenile and the utterly sublime. One Cool Trick Here is a cool trick that even I can use fairly well. Read On →

R is not for Role

Lately, my game playing time has been mostly budgeted to games that the industry puts into the general genre of “Role Playing Game” or “RPG”. Before Knights of the Old Republic I had mostly ignored games like these, but since that game I have delved into Mario and Luigi, Disgaea, Shadow Hearts and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. All this exposure has gotten me to thinking about the defining characteristic of this game genre. Read On →

Learning From Xbox

Editor’s Note: An anonymous source dropped this in my mailbox. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but I wanted to share it with my readers because I thought it was an interesting read. “Xenon” is the codename for the Xbox 2. To: xbox-exec@internal.microsoft.com Cc: Ballmer, Steve **From: ** Samuelson, Johnathan Subject: Things Xbox can teach Xenon Team, The Xenon product launch is rapidly approaching. Everyone on the team has been executing at 100%, and I have every confidence that the hard work we’ve put into this product is going to translate to meeting and exceeding market expectations. Read On →

Ohm Mani Padme Hum

Resistance is futile! Today’s high-voltage offering is Things That Can Kill You, Volume 3 - Electricity. Enjoy!

Scrambled Eggs

Pete’s recent rumination on creamy eggs got me to thinking about something that I don’t understand. Why does no one who runs a restaurant these days know how to cook eggs? I can count on the first two fingers of my left hand the number of times I’ve had good scrambled eggs served to me in the last year or so. Once was at Dottie’s in San Franscisco, and once was at the excellent Taco Loco Taqueria in Pittsburgh (I’m not kidding, it really is good Mexican in Pittsburgh). Read On →

Gran Turismo 4

My friend Nat and I were talking about Gran Turismo 4. He was saying that the vibe he got was that they had cut most of the cool features out of it when they realized that even without those features they would still sell a kerjillion copies of it: Really, they could put a vaguely car-shaped turd in a box and people would not only buy it but write impassioned fifteen-page essays about how it was the best game ever and shriekingly deny any rumors of turdness. Read On →

How to take Good Pictures.

The two best books that I’ve read about how to take pictures are Mountain Light by the late Galen Rowell and On Being a Photogapher by David Hurn and Bill Jay. The first is a book about landscape photography, while the second is a book about photojournalism. But I think both make essentially the same points about how to take good pictures. If you are really serious, put your computer down and go pick up those two books. Read On →

Formula None

A few months ago, in a fit of good sense, I cancelled my satellite dish service when I realized that I was paying about $40 a month for the privilege of not actually watching any TV. And, for the most part, it has worked out. I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve played a lot of videogames. I haven’t missed it at all. Unfortunately, Formula One season starts this weekend. This puts me in a bit of a bind. Read On →

Aflatoxins

As you enjoy your breakfast today, please also enjoy Things That Can Kill You, Volume 2: Aflatoxins. Er, hope you aren’t having peanuts. If you have suggested topics for future shows, feel free to send email to life - at - tleaves.com

No Free Silver Bullet Lunch

So Pete took me to lunch today with some fellow software engineering buddies. While munching our rather excellent Indian buffet food, one of the engineers related an incident that happened to him on vacation. He was walking back to his hotel room, and he overhears one side of a phone conversation that is going like this: We can either fix more bugs to make the system more stable or we can develop new features but not both. Read On →

I'm With Stupid

Video games, like pornography, are addictive. On some level, everyone knows that. That’s why we spend so much money on them. It’s why dried-up Congressmen take time off from seducing their new pages to hold hearings on ratings systems. It’s why tearful wives pour their hearts out to strangers, telling them how their husbands spend all their time online, waving “swords” at “worms” in Everquest. It’s why videogame magazines are sealed in plastic, so that the mark doesn’t get a peek at the goods without paying. Read On →

Workflow Adjustments

It’s been about a year, and every new year it’s a good time to evaluate your digital picture workflow and try to streamline it. Well, that is, if you are a complete dork. Anyway, I test workflow tools so you don’t have to. I had been using two basic tools to process my pictures: iView Media Pro and Photoshop. iView is a great cataloging tool, and Photoshop is very good at all kinds of image processing. Read On →

Things That Can Kill You

For your podcasting pleasure, I present: Things that Can Kill You, Volume 1: Semiautomatic Handguns. It’s one minute and nine seconds in duration, and I promise it will be the highlight of your day. Next week: Aflatoxins.

Gran Annoioso

Tomorrow, Gran Turismo 4 will be released for the Playstation 2. And, like a good corporate drone, I am probably going to buy it, even though I don’t expect it to actually be good. Because the previous game in the series, Gran Turismo 3, really wasn’t very good, either. The Emperor, you see, had no clothes. I’m going to buy it, of course, not only because of my well-documented obsession for playing video games, but also because I’m specifically a sucker for driving games. Read On →

Shatner Addendum

I asked William Shatner what he thought about my last article and he said: The Sony Playstation 2! They spend millions of dollars slagging the Dreamcast, and then all the games are jaggy and ugly! And all the gaming magazines talk about how great the lousy graphics are! I can’t get behind that! Just thought you should know.

Indie Game Friday: Neverball

Neverball is an open-source version of Super Monkey Ball, which itself owes quite a bit to the classic Atari arcade game Marble Madness. It’s quite fun, and challenging. It runs on Mac OS, Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD, so you have essentially no excuse for not trying it out. Neverball The game requires quite a bit of CPU (and graphics card - hardware OpenGL acceleration is required) oomph, but the payoff is worth it. Read On →